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Pirate Code

The pirates knew all too well what happened if one person had all the power on a ship. Too many of them had suffered under violent captains. They were determined never to give a single person power over their lives again.

With their typical pragmatism pirate crews simply chose two main organizers for the two general states a pirate ship could be in: the fight and the search for new prizes.


The captain had the absolute power in all situations concerning “fighting, chasing or being chased” as Daniel Defoe puts it. He could even kill any pirate who refused to fight on the spot without conferring with his crew mates.

As soon as the smoke of battle had settled, however, the quartermaster took over the command of the ship. It was he who divided the booty, decided where the ship would sail next and what was to happen with the captured ship. The quartermaster also acted as judge in all fights between pirates and dealt with violations of rules by crewmen. Like the captain he had to have a strong personality and therefore most pirate captains had served as quartermasters and had already commanded a smaller ship in that position.

You wouldn’t believe what kind of self-imposed rules pirate societies had:

Charter of Bartholomew Robert’s Crew, 1722